SYDNEY – New Zealand is looking at opening up travel with the Cook Islands in the South Pacific before the end of the year, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, whose handling of the COVID-19 epidemic has been internationally praised, said on Monday.
The government of New Zealand, which on Sunday completed 100 days without local transmission of COVID-19, imposed one of the world’s strictest lockdowns in late March on account of the epidemic, which allowed it to return to normal on June 9 after being one of the few countries to eliminate the virus.
The governments of New Zealand and the Cook Islands, a country that has not detected any COVID-19 case within its borders, already have a draft text of an agreement for quarantine-free travel between the two destinations that will need to be approved this month by both sides.
“Once in force, the Arrangement will facilitate the return to normal travel between our two countries, while acknowledging that the priority remains to protect our populations from COVID-19,” Ardern said in a statement. “We now need to make sure the commitments made in the Arrangement can be met and that both countries have robust health and border system that stop the spread of COVID.”
“We need to stress test the arrangement, ensure testing and surveillance systems are strong, that we have contact tracing systems in place,” she added.
“As part of its COVID-19 response, the Cook Islands closed all air and sea borders in March. We have been COVID free to this day. The elimination by New Zealand of community transmission of COVID-19 100 days ago enabled some resumption by the Cook Islands of arrivals from New Zealand only,” Prime Minister of the Cook Islands Henry Puna said.
This refers to the decision taken by the Cook Islands on June 19 to allow its residents to travel to the island from New Zealand without the need for a 30-day quarantine.
“We look forward to once again welcoming family and visitors from New Zealand without the restriction of quarantine on both ends, when all the appropriate measures are in place,” he added.
Both governments are hoping for the bubble to be in place by the end of the year.
New Zealand, which aims to expand this bubble to nations such as Fiji, had initially planned an air-travel corridor with Australia but the COVID-19 outbreak in Melbourne city, which has caused more than 12,500 infections since early July, forced these plans to be suspended.
New Zealand has had 1,219 COVID-19 infections, including 22 deaths and 21 active cases, all among overseas travelers, according to official data.